Willow bark extract is prepared from the dried bark of the willow species. This extract is most commonly used to fight pain and inflammation, but may also have some anticancer properties. There is evidence that this compound was used to treat a variety of medical conditions in many ancient societies, including the Greek, Egyptian, and Chinese cultures.
The major active ingredient in this extract is salicin, which is converted to salicylic acid in the body. This same compound is the active ingredient in aspirin-based medications. The presence of high amounts of this compound in willow bark extract explains the documented anti-inflammatory and pain relieving qualities of this extract. It also explains the ability of this extract to relieve fevers.
Several clinical studies have demonstrated that willow bark extract significantly reduced pain in patients with chronic pain conditions. The compound was especially effective in treating back pain. Other studies have confirmed the anti-inflammatory properties of willow bark extract in rodents.
Due to its similarity to aspirin, it was proposed that willow bark extract might have a similar cardio protective effect on patients who’d had previous heart attacks. It was also thought that this natural herb might have fewer negative side effects compared to aspirin therapy, such as gastrointestinal problems. Several studies, however, have suggested that this extract might not have the same protective effect as aspirin on these patients.
Willow bark extract also contains compounds like flavonoids and polyphenols, which may be able to fight cancer. Several studies have shown that this extract stopped growth and induced death in a variety of human cancer cells, including cells that were directly isolated from leukemia patients. Whether or not this extract will have the same beneficial effect in humans with cancer is still unknown.
The side effects associated with willow bark extract are similar to the side effects associated with other aspirin products. High doses and prolonged use of this substance can cause stomach upset or even stomach bleeding. This is due to the irritating effects of salicylic acid in the stomach. People with very sensitive stomachs may experience problems with this extract even at very low doses.
In addition, people with bleeding disorders should be careful about using this extract because it may increase the bleeding tendency. There is also some evidence to suggest that willow bark extract may interact with certain medications that function as anticoagulants. Finally, alcohol and any kind of sedative substances should not be taken at the same time as this extract.